By Dan Rubin
Charles Dickens never picked up a hockey stick, laced up skates, or even knew that a Bentley University would ever exist in Waltham, MA. He surely never set foot in the John A. Ryan Skating Arena. And he never intended any of his writings to come back to a college sports event.
But this season has been the best of times and worst of times for the Bentley Falcons. They opened up the year with wins over Northeastern, Holy Cross, and Canisius. They had a record [5-6-1], including [4-3-1] in conference play. Then they went two months without a win. They tied and lost games they should’ve won, including an overtime defeat to Air Force, a tie with Robert Morris, and a tie with RIT. They bottomed out on January 21st, when they were embarrassed on home ice with an 8-2 loss to Mercyhurst.
Although they’ve leveled off from the season’s high and low, they remain an enigma. There’s the weekend battle with Army, where they took three points in a goalie matchup for the ages featuring freshman Brandon Komm. And there’s the gritty 4-2 win over Connecticut. But there’s also the Sacred Heart game they led 3-1 and lost 6-3. And there’s there loss to AIC by a 5-1 tally. They haven’t swept a weekend since the first full weekend of AHA games. But they haven’t been swept since New Year’s Eve, when they lost two games they could’ve (and in one case, should’ve) won.
The best part of the playoffs is that it’s a fresh slate. Sure the Falcons are in the first round without a bye, but they were in bye contention until the final weekend of the regular season. And they’re at home, taking on a team they beat twice. Despite a bad loss to the Pioneers, Bentley crushed them in the beginning of the year, and they beat the Pioneers on the road. So all that remains is to try to determine which Bentley team shows up. The Road To Rochester starts here…
#11 Sacred Heart Pioneers at #10 Bentley Falcons
Goaltending Matchup: Sacred Heart will send either Steven Legatto or Olivier St. Onge into netminding duties. They’ve split time because neither man had a very good year. Legatto is averaging a shade under five goals per game. St. Onge is averaging a shade under four. Neither man stopped 90% of the shots this year, and neither won more than three games. Bentley will counter with either Komm, Kyle Rank, or senior Joe Calvi. Komm battled injury woes before playing out of his mind against Army. After that weekend, though, he’s slipped, finishing the year with a [1-5-1] record. Calvi saw the most time and was the most consistent, but he was the backstop of games in both games Bentley gave up eight goals. Rank worked his way back into the starting role by process of elimination. He stopped 37 and 31 in wins over AIC and Connecticut late in the year. All three goalies allow an average of three goals per game. Let’s face it – this isn’t exactly a pitcher’s duel-type matchup. But, nevertheless, if Bentley’s goalies are hot, they can shut teams down. Advantage: Bentley
Forwards: Playoff hockey is about being able to skate your top lines better than the other team’s top lines. Having a great top and second line can win games. Evan Mladenoff, Patrick Knowlton, Matt Gingera, and Eric Delong all skate on the top two lines for Sacred Heart. Gingera has 16 goals on the season, and Delong and Mladenoff have nine apiece. Knowlton has 17 assists, while Delong has 18. Bentley counters with a top line of Erik Peterson-Dustin Cloutier-Brett Gensler. Peterson and Gensler have ten goals apiece, and Cloutier has a team high 14 assists. Cloutier also has six points in the last seven games. Aaron Stonacek also saw time with the first line, but he primarily skates with Joe Campanelli on the second line.
Normally, at this point, I’d say how the third line will be a gamebreaker for Bentley, since Jamie Nudy, Dan Koudys, and Brett Hartung will spot the top two lines a breather. They’ll soften up Sacred Heart’s top two just enough to let their own top lines do some damage. But David Berube, Chad Filteau, and Kyle Verbeek can do the same for the Pioneers. Advantage: Push
Defensemen: Bentley’s defensemen do a wonderful job of playing instigator roles. Mike Switzer amassed 34 PIM on his own on December 3 against Robert Morris. He has 114 on the season, along with 3-7-10 totals. Ryan Kayfes had 30 PIM during that same RMU game, amassing 80-plus this season. They’re a devastating pair to have on the ice, and they headline a Bentley defensive unit that is top to bottom solid. Zach Marginsky stands 6-6, and Trent Bonnett has been a stalwart. Zach Ledford pairs with Micah Williams for a third solid unit. Sacred Heart counters with Mitchell Stretch, Neil Fachini, and a pupu platter of decent but not overpowering defensemen. Advantage: Bentley
Special Teams: During their first game, I used the term “the extremely movable force meets the extremely stoppable object” to describe the Pioneers PK against the Bentley PP. The Pioneers killed at a D1-worst 69.3%, while Bentley ended at a conference-worst 8.8% powerplay unit. But the Bentley powerplay has looked very good at times, especially when one considers they were under 6% as late as February 1st. Bentley’s penalty kill is a better than average 85%, slotting them in third in the conference. The Sacred Heart powerplay is 11th, ahead of only that Bentley man-up. Advantage: Bentley
I won’t get into coaching comparisons because, well, quite franky, I don’t like them. Coaching styles are so different that the comparisons don’t do any justice, and it really depends on the right players in the right system. There’s no telling what might happen if you plop Bentley’s players into the RIT system and vice-versa. All I know is that this Bentley team has been waiting patiently for the right time to break out. It seems like they just never got over the hump. Sacred Heart, meanwhile, is a team that was truly snakebitten by the bad karma bus when it came to winning games. They’re a good team with a lot of positives, but, at this stage of the game, I’m going with Bentley, 5-3. Make sure to check this one out, since Atlantic Hockey games are typically fast paced and truly exciting. Be there at 7:05 PM from the old barn on Paramount Place when these teams lock up. It’s sure to be a good one.